US 20070044086 A1
A user interface application, such as a sidebar application or web page, receives content from a set of plug-in modules. The user interface handles the display of the content and manages any user interaction with the content, thus abstracting these features from the plug-in modules. The plug-in modules may thus be device-independent and possibly used to display the same or corresponding content in other interfaces and/or other devices. One or more of the plug-in modules may also be designed to obtain and populate their content automatically based on user activity, including web browsing or interactions with documents on the local system.
1. A computer program product providing a user interface for user-customizable content, the computer program product comprising a computer-readable medium containing computer program code comprising:
a set of plug-in modules, each plug-in module adapted to provide a list of information items; and
a software development kit configured to display the information items from the corresponding plug-in modules on a user interface and to manage user interaction with the information items in the user interface.
2. The computer program product of
3. The computer program product of
4. The computer program product of
5. The computer program product of
6. The computer program product of
7. The computer program product of
8. A computer program product providing a user interface for user-customizable content, the computer program product comprising a computer-readable medium containing computer program code comprising:
a set of plug-in modules, each plug-in module adapted to provide a list of information items; and
a first software development kit configured to display the information items from the corresponding plug-in modules on a first user interface and to manage user interaction with the information items in the first user interface.
a second software development kit configured to display the information items from the corresponding plug-in modules on a second user interface and to manage user interaction with the information items in the second user interface.
9. The computer program product of
10. The computer program product of
11. The computer program product of
12. A computer program product for providing a user interface for displaying content from one or more plug-in modules, the computer program product comprising a computer-readable medium containing computer program code for performing the method comprising:
receiving a set of information items from each of a plurality of plug-in modules;
receiving user interactions associated with information items; and
a step for managing the display of and user interactions with the information items in a user interface without assistance from the corresponding plug-in modules.
13. The computer program product of
14. The computer program product of
15. The computer program product of
16. The computer program product of
creating a panel on the user interface for each plug-in module, each panel including the information items for the corresponding plug-in module.
17. The computer program product of
18. A computer program product for providing a user interface to user-customizable content, the computer program product comprising a computer-readable medium containing computer program code comprising:
a set of plug-in modules, each plug-in module configured to provide a list of information items and to define allowed user interactions with the information items; and
a sidebar kit configured to receive the lists of information items and allowed user interactions from the plug-in modules, the sidebar kit comprising a first set of helper objects for displaying the information items from each plug-in module in a panel of a sidebar, and a second set of helper objects for managing user interactions with the information items according to the defined allowed user interactions.
19. The computer program product of
a web page kit configured to receive the lists of information items and allowed user interactions from the plug-in modules, the web page kit comprising a first set of helper objects for displaying the information items from each plug-in module in a panel of a web page, and a second set of helper objects for managing user interactions with the information items according to the defined allowed user interactions.
20. The computer program product of
a software development kit configured to receive the lists of information items and allowed user interactions from the plug-in modules, the software development kit configured to display the information items and manage user interaction therewith on a target device other than a computer system.
21. The computer program product of
22. A computer-implemented method for obtaining information items by a plug-in module for a user interface, the method comprising:
observing a user's behavior on a local machine, the behavior comprising viewing of content on the local machine;
analyzing content being viewed;
identifying relevant information based on the analyzing;
adding the identified relevant information as one or more new information items for the plug-in module; and
providing the information items associated with the plug-in module for display in the user interface.
This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/709,653, filed Aug. 19, 2005, which is incorporated by reference in its entirety.
This disclosure relates generally to computer software, and in particular to a computer software architecture employing plug-in modules for displaying informational content in a user interface of one or more applications, such as a sidebar application.
A variety of software applications provide a user interface that allows users to accumulate, organize, and view content from a number of different sources. Such applications include sidebar applications, which run in a desktop environment and present content in the user interface. A user can typically customize the content in the sidebar as well as its formatting and other presentation attributes. Another type of user interface that allows users to customize content is a web page, such as a personalized home page, in which a user can select content from the Internet to display via a web browser. In this way, sidebar applications, personalized web pages, and other types of user interfaces can provide a more useful, tailored presentation of information that is relevant to each individual user.
The developers of these user interfaces allowing for the customization of content may not necessarily provide all, or any, of the content displayed on the user interface. In many cases, it may be desirable to allow third-party software developers to produce software modules that provide content for use with these applications. For example, a maker of a sidebar application may provide standard types of content with the sidebar application, such as the contents of the user's email inbox, the current performance metrics for the computer system, and a slideshow of pictures stored on the computer system. But to increase the utility of the sidebar application, the sidebar application may also accept content from “plug-in” modules made by the developer of the sidebar application or by third-party developers. For example, a provider of weather information on the Internet may produce a plug-in module that obtains selected weather information online and then presents that information through the sidebar's user interface. It can be appreciated that many other types of third-party content modules can be developed for many other useful purposes.
Plug-in architectures exist for sidebars and other types of user interfaces, where third-party content developers provide content using plug-in modules that interact with the main application. In this context, plug-in modules are software modules that obtain content and present the content to the user via the user interface of the main application. Existing plug-in architectures provide basic drawing commands and user input messages, which can be used by the software code of the plug-in module to manage the presentation of and interaction with the plug-in's content on the user interface. Because these plug-in modules manage the content display and the user interaction, the plug-ins are developed for a particular type of user interface and possibly for a particular target device. Accordingly, a plug-in developed for a sidebar application may not be suitable for providing content for other user interfaces, such as a web page, or other devices, such as a cellular phone running a WAP browser.
A user interface for user-customizable content uses a plug-in architecture that allows one or more plug-in modules to provide content to the user interface. The user interface may be a sidebar, a web page, or any other suitable user interface that allows users to organize content from a variety of sources. The user interface handles the display of the content and manages user interaction with the content, thus abstracting these features from the plug-in modules. In this way, the plug-in modules may provide the content and possibly define user interactions allowed with the content without having to manage the display and user interaction with the content that occurs in the user interface. The plug-in modules may thus be device-independent and possibly used to display the same or corresponding content in other interfaces and/or other devices. The same plug-ins can then provide content to other types of interfaces that are developed to accept the content and manage the display and interaction with the content as appropriate for each interface and device on which the interface runs.
In one embodiment, a computer program product provides a user interface for user-customizable content. The product includes a set of plug-in modules, each of which provides a list of information items and possibly a definition of allowed user interactions with the information items. The product further includes a user interface module that displays panels for the plug-in modules so that each panel includes the information items from the corresponding plug-in module. The user interface module manages user interaction with the information items in the panels so that the plug-in modules do not have to. The user interface module may be designed for a sidebar, a web page, or any other user module that allows for the presentation of user-customizable content.
One or more of the plug-in modules may also be designed to obtain and populate their content automatically based on user activity, including web browsing or interactions with documents on the local system. This feature enables various applications in which a plug-in module can provide relevant content to a user with minimal manual customization by the user.
The features and advantages described in this summary and the following detailed description are not all-inclusive. Many additional features and advantages will be apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art in view of the drawings, specification, and claims hereof.
The figures depict various embodiments of the present invention for purposes of illustration only. One skilled in the art will readily recognize from the following discussion that alternative embodiments of the structures and methods illustrated herein may be employed without departing from the principles of the invention described herein.
Plug-In Software Architecture
In this context, a plug-in module 110 is a software module that provides content for one or more user interfaces. A plug-in module 110 may comprise programming code installed on a client computer and configured to provide content for a user interface of the client computer. As shown in
Each plug-in module 110 may further define the user interactions that are allowed with the information items. As can be appreciated, the allowed user interactions will likely depend on the types of content presented. For example, if the information items include links, an allowed user interaction may be a click on the link to open the content associated with the link. If the information item is an email, file, or application, a user interaction may be to open the corresponding email, file, or application. For video or audio, the user interaction may be to initiate and control the playback of the video or audio. Various other user interactions may be defined by the developer of each plug-in 110 to achieve other desired functionalities.
Because the plug-in 110 is not responsible for managing the drawing and user input functions in the user interface, other code is provided for these tasks. In one embodiment, the software architecture includes a software development kit (SDK) 120. The software development kit 120 may comprise programming code installed on the client computer and configured to receive content from the plug-in modules 110 and manage the display of and user interaction with that content on a user interface of the client computer.
In one embodiment, the software development kit 120 defines a software architecture that includes helper objects 130 that various plug-in modules 110 can use to provide content to the sidebar application. In one embodiment, the software development kit 120 includes one set of helper objects 130 for managing the drawing and presentation of the content on the user interface and another set of helper objects for managing the input handling and user interactions with the content. The helper objects 130 thus provide standardized graphics drawing and input handling functions so that developers of the plug-in modules 110 need not provide for those functions for each user interface with which the plug-in modules 110 may be used. This allows third parties to design plug-in modules 110 by focusing on the content and functionality instead of the design of each user interface.
In a general sense, the helper objects 130 may beneficially provide an easy way to add, remove, and/or manage content that is shown in a user interface. Where the content is in the form of a list of items, each item may be based on an existing template or on a totally new presentation format. Accordingly, the helper objects 130 may provide templates for commonly used content, such as email, news, files, and other types of content, while allowing developers the flexibility to present the content in other ways if desired. In various implementations, various helper objects 130 may be defined to perform a wide variety of functions.
In the embodiment of
Preferably, the software development kits 120-A and 120-B include corresponding formats for defining content and user interactions. This helps facilitate the design of the plug-in modules 110. The plug-in modules 110 can then be developed once and would work with multiple user interfaces. Beneficially, this also allows the plug-in modules 110 to provide content for later-developed user interfaces. For example, if a new user interface is developed, a corresponding software development kit can be designed to receive content from the existing plug-in modules 110 and manage the presentation of and user interaction with that content for the new user interface.
A user may interact with panels 220 in the sidebar 210 in a variety of ways as the particular user interface allows. Many features of the user interface for a sidebar application are described in more detail below. In the embodiment shown in
The web page 150 may operate in the same fashion.
Because of their different natures, the sidebar 210 and the web page 410 user interfaces may present the content from the plug-in modules in different ways. Furthermore, their different capabilities may allow or disallow different user interactions with the content. Accordingly, the different software development kits 120-A and 120-B are designed to manage these presentation and user interactions correspondingly, so that the plug-in modules 110 need not be concerned with these functions. By selecting certain desired plug-in modules 110 and configuring the content that they present, a user can create customized content for the associated user interface. For one user interface, therefore, a user may select and configure a set of plug-in modules 110 and then have that customized content presented in other user interfaces. The other software development kits allow this customized content to be realized in the other corresponding user interfaces.
In one embodiment, multiple software development kits 120 are designed to display and manage user interaction with the content on user interfaces on different target devices, where each software development kits 120 is designed to run on a particular device and manage the content for a particular user interface. For example, one software development kit may be designed for a sidebar running on a computer system, while another software development kit may be designed for a user interface running on another target device such as a cellular phone or other portable device. The latter user interface may be, for example, a dedicated application running on the device or a page viewed by a WAP browser. In this way, a user's customized content can be accessed from a variety of target devices.
In operation, in one embodiment, a plug-in module 110 calls the helper objects 130 to add items 230 to a panel 220 so that the items are displayed to the user in the sidebar 210. When an item 230 is clicked or opened or if its details are viewed, the corresponding plug-in module 110 may receive a notification of this event from one of the input handling helper objects 130. In response to such an event, the plug-in module 110 may be programmed to provide certain information to display at that time or take another appropriate action, such as opening up a web page. But rather than containing the code to draw the items in a sidebar panel, the plug-in module 110 can simply pass the information and appropriate commands to the helper objects 130. The helper objects 130 then add the items to the panel 220 and draw them on the screen. In one embodiment, a plug-in module 110 can override the default behavior provided by the helper objects 130 and display the content in different ways by including in the plug-in module 110 specific code for drawing the content in the panel in a desired way in which the software development kit 120 is not pre-programmed to handle.
In one embodiment, a host and registration mechanism accepts registration information from plug-in modules 110 and loads them on the fly without requiring restarts or any extra action from the user. In this way, there is no need to enable the plug-in modules 110 manually from the user interface's options. Once a plug-in module 110 registers with the user interface (such as the sidebar application 140), it is automatically loaded onto the user interface, reducing user effort. This avoids restarts or asking users to select and enable a plug-in module 110 from the list of plug-in modules 110, and it reduces the effort from plug-in developers for registering their plug-in modules 110 in a user interface. After a successful registration with the user interface application, a component plug-in module 110 can then use the corresponding software development kit 120 to display its content and interact with the framework of the user interface.
This item-based approach of the user interface allows plug-in modules 110 to display their content easily and leaves the user interface interaction to the helper objects 130. This also allows the plug-in modules 110 to be oblivious to where that content is sent and displayed and how the user interacts with the content at the user interface level. The addition of templates to the item-based user interface enables reuse of functionality and less work for the plug-in developers. It also provides for a consistent user experience across all plug-in modules 110 and in all the output devices displaying the content. The user interfaces can thus provide content from a large number of sources in a more consistent way.
A sidebar application for a desktop environment acts as a host for plug-ins that provide useful visual information to the user in a convenient graphical user interface.
One embodiment of the sidebar application allows a user to reorder the panels within the sidebar by clicking on a panel's title bar and dragging it to its desired location within the sidebar. While the panel is dragged, a transparent image of the panel follows the mouse cursor that represents the panel being moved. As the user moves the mouse around, the other panels in the sidebar will slide up and down to leave an open space where the panel will be inserted. Upon letting go of the mouse button, this transparent panel animates sliding into the open space, and the reordering is complete.
In another embodiment, a user can view a scrollable pop-out view of a particular panel displayed in the sidebar application. The scrollable pop-out view may allow a user to view a larger version of the panel. This larger pop-out view is preferably scrollable and allows viewing of all the items in the original panel. In one embodiment, the pop-out view includes the same information (i.e., the same list of items) as its corresponding panel, but the pop-out view allows the user to see more of it by virtue of the larger size and scrolling feature. If the panel displays only one item at a time, the expanded view may show a list of all the items in the panel. Otherwise, the pop-out view is the same view available in the panel with the exception that more information is displayed. This expanded pop-out view may be accessed in one embodiment by clicking a panel button or by clicking the panel title bar itself. The view is preferably resizable, and a scroll bar will appear if the amount of information exceeds that of the expanded display space. In one embodiment, the panel corresponding to a pop-out view is grayed out to indicate which panel has been popped out.
In another embodiment, the sidebar application provides a details view for a particular panel. A details view is similar to a pop-out view but gives additional information for a particular item in a panel. The details view of an item in the sidebar panel may thus allow the user to see more information about any given item in a panel. The additional information shown in the details view may take many forms depending on the type of item. For example, the details view may show the text of an email, an enlarged view of a photograph, or a forecast of the week's weather. From the details view, users may be able to access even more information by clicking on the title to open the item itself. The details view may be accessible by clicking on an item in the panel. Clicking again will close the view, as well as clicking on a close button in the view. The details view may open by sliding out to the side and close by sliding back underneath the sidebar. The details view may also provide the ability to perform selected defined actions to the corresponding item within the details view. A small gray bar over the item to which the details view corresponds may serve as a visual mark tying the details view to the specific highlighted item.
In another embodiment, a panel comprises a title bar and a body portion that includes the items in the panel. The title bar may contain an icon and a title that describe the panel, as well as various buttons that allow access to panel-specific features. This panel may be resizable to show more or less information and may also be minimized so that the only portion of the panel showing is its title bar.
In one embodiment, clicking on a panel's title bar toggles between a minimized mode and a normal mode for the panel. In normal mode, the panel's title bar shows the title of the panel and optionally a related icon, and the body portion shows the items in the panel. In a minimized mode, the normal body of the panel is hidden, and the items in the panel are displayed on the title bar instead of the title. In one embodiment, the information items contained in the panel rotate through, and are thus displayed sequentially in, the minimized title bar.
The sidebar application allows plug-in modules to display alerts to the user in a notification window that is separate from the sidebar and can be displayed even when the sidebar is hidden. For example, a notification window may pop up in response to certain events, such as receiving an email, the breaking of a news story, the expiration of a reminder or scheduled meeting, or any other of a number of events that can occur related to a panel on the sidebar. For each event, the notification window can display a title, a summary, and the source of the information in either visual or textual form. Beneficially, different plug-in modules can use the same notification window to display their alerts, so that a single interface can be used to provide alerts for content in the sidebar. As the alerts may relate to different items (such as emails, news, and the like), the alerts may have a visual indication of the alert's type, using for example an icon or other identifying graphic. Multiple items associated with a notification alert window can be viewed in the same notification window by navigating it, e.g., using arrow buttons. One embodiment of a notification window is shown in the upper left portion of the screen shot of
The notification window may be moveable anywhere on the screen by clicking and dragging a handle or its title bar. In one embodiment, if multiple alerts exist, the alerts are shown one at a time in a slideshow style. A user can pause this slideshow by placing the mouse cursor over the notification window and can navigate forwards and backwards in the slideshow of alerts by clicking pagination buttons. Clicking on the notification display itself may open the item related to the event. For a new email alert, for example, clicking will open the email itself. If the user does not wish to see the notification display, they can click a close button, which will immediately close the notification user interface. In one embodiment, an alert is shown only if the information cannot be shown in the corresponding sidebar panel, e.g., if the sidebar is minimized. This feature may be an option settable by the user.
Automatic Population of Plug-In Content
In one embodiment, a plug-in module observes a user's behavior and analyzes the content being accessed by the user. This content may be information in a web page being viewed in a browser, the contents of a document that is opened in an application, or any other content that a user may be using on the computer. Depending on the purpose of the plug-in, the plug-in identifies particular relevant types of information within that content—if such information exists therein—for use in the panels (e.g., images or addresses). Alternatively, the plug-in may analyze information used by or actions taken by the user, which indirectly point to content. For example, the plug-in module may recognize that a user accesses a URL that contains a RSS feed, and in response the plug-in module can pull text and/or images from that RSS feed.
It can be appreciated that a great many applications are enabled with embodiments of the type of plug-in module described herein. In one example, a plug-in module reviews the contents of web pages, emails, and/or other documents as they are viewed by a user in a browser, automatically detecting any addresses therein. The plug-in module may be notified of a new web page or email view by a crawler. If an address is detected, the plug-in module retrieves a map of the address and preloads that map information in a corresponding panel in the sidebar or other user interface. The resulting map image in the panel may be clickable to bring up a fully-functional maps window. As new addresses are identified, the plug-in module preloads its map information and queues that to be the next map that shows in the panel.
In one embodiment, the ability to browse to the original item is preserved. For example, the user may be able to browse to an original image from a slideshow (e.g., where the panel shows images from an RSS feed of a currently viewed web site) or to the website from which the pictures came.
The foregoing description of the embodiments of the invention has been presented for the purpose of illustration; it is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise forms disclosed. Persons skilled in the relevant art can appreciate that many modifications and variations are possible in light of the above teachings. It is therefore intended that the scope of the invention be limited not by this detailed description, but rather by the claims appended hereto.
Some portions of above description describe the invention in terms of algorithms and symbolic representations of operations on information. These algorithmic descriptions and representations are the means used by those skilled in the data processing arts to most effectively convey the substance of their work to others skilled in the art. These operations, while described functionally, computationally, or logically, are understood to be implemented by computer programs or equivalent electrical circuits, microcode, or the like. Furthermore, it has also proven convenient at times, to refer to these arrangements of operations as modules, without loss of generality. The described operations and their associated modules may be embodied in software, firmware, hardware, or any combinations thereof.
In addition, the terms used to describe various quantities, data values, and computations are understood to be associated with the appropriate physical quantities and are merely convenient labels applied to these quantities. Unless specifically stated otherwise as apparent from the following discussion, it is appreciated that throughout the description, discussions utilizing terms such as “processing” or “computing” or “calculating” or “determining” or the like, refer to the action and processes of a computer system, or similar electronic computing device, that manipulates and transforms data represented as physical (electronic) quantities within the computer system memories or registers or other such information storage, transmission or display devices.
The present invention also relates to an apparatus for performing the operations herein. This apparatus may be specially constructed for the required purposes, or it may comprise a general-purpose computer selectively activated or reconfigured by a computer program stored in the computer. Such a computer program may be stored in a computer readable storage medium, such as, but is not limited to, any type of disk including floppy disks, optical disks, CD-ROMs, magnetic-optical disks, read-only memories (ROMs), random access memories (RAMs), EPROMs, EEPROMs, magnetic or optical cards, application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), or any type of media suitable for storing electronic instructions, and each coupled to a computer system bus. Furthermore, the computers referred to in the specification may include a single processor or may be architectures employing multiple processor designs for increased computing capability.
The algorithms and displays presented herein are not inherently related to any particular computer or other apparatus. Various general-purpose systems may also be used with programs in accordance with the teachings herein, or it may prove convenient to construct more specialized apparatus to perform the required method steps. The required structure for a variety of these systems will appear from the description above. In addition, the present invention is not described with reference to any particular programming language. It is appreciated that a variety of programming languages may be used to implement the teachings of the present invention as described herein, and any references to specific languages are provided for disclosure of enablement and best mode of the present invention.
The present invention is well-suited to a wide variety of computer network systems over numerous topologies. Within this field, the configuration and management of large networks comprise storage devices and computers that are communicatively coupled to dissimilar computers and storage devices over a network, such as the Internet.
Finally, it should be noted that the language used in the specification has been principally selected for readability and instructional purposes, and may not have been selected to delineate or circumscribe the inventive subject matter. Accordingly, the disclosure of the present invention is intended to be illustrative, but not limiting, of the scope of the invention, which is set forth in the following claims.